Hartwell's habitat enhancement


Amy Chastain/SCDNR

Fishing habitat on aging Lake Hartwell is being rejuvenated through a habitat enhancement project.

For a grad student pursuing a masters in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, working alongside South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) fisheries technicians offered a rare shot of real-world exposure that stoked a fire burning in Deon Kerr’s heart.

Infused with equal doses of appreciation and diligence, the 25-year-old Clemson University student, originally from Sandusky, Ohio, said the state agency’s fervent commitment to Lake Hartwell habitat enhancement motivated him to help his role models maximize their efforts to invigorate this Savannah River reservoir, set to host the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.

“It sheds light on the work they do, by physically seeing the state employees doing their daily job,” Kerr said, of his April electrofishing trip in Hartwell’s Twin Lakes Cove. “Also, you get to know the employee and view their strong work ethic. It helps generate respect for the DNR, as a whole.”

Summarily, Kerr and his faculty advisor, Clemson University’s Assistant Professor of Fisheries Ecology Troy Farmer, spearhead the school’s Black Bass Habitat Selection Project on Lake Hartwell — a mission aimed at helping the SCDNR dial in its efforts to give the lake a subsurface makeover.

Living arrangements

We’ll look at Clemson’s methods in a moment, but for now, SCDNR Fisheries Biologist Amy Chastain described the state’s efforts to put back some of what has been lost. Like most impoundments of advanced years, Hartwell has seen time and water fluctuations erode a lot of the natural cover that predators and forage need.

“It’s an aging reservoir, so a lot of the habitat is lacking,” Chastain said. “I have pictures from the 2008 drought when the lake was down so far, and the first cove where we did (habitat) treatment was just like a desert. There was no structure, so this is going to add a lot of fish habitat.”

After a feasibility study and funding procurement, the SCDNR officially began its Lake Hartwell habitat enhancement efforts in 2014. Working through the learning curve, they reviewed other states’ experiences, tried a broad array of materials and gradually narrowed down their site selection and habitat types.

“We homed in on what we think works best, based on what our electrofishing (had shown),” Chastain said. “A couple of times, we’ve had some people dive on the structures to see if there were any fish there.”